The Museum

+ Project Information

The museum has figured prominently in my work for a considerable time, first appeared in the mid-90s, as I began to shadow school parties on educational visits to various local museums (a process that evolved naturally from photographing in the classroom). During the course of these visits, I would follow groups as they moved around various museum exhibits, photographing as they went. I had become particularly interested at this point in the children’s reactions to the taxidermy on display. Girl with Bears, Royal Museum of Edinburgh (1999) is an early image from an on-going series shot on location at The Royal Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. Here, a young girl is pictured crouched in front of a display case, viewing the bears behind glass in the vitrine just ahead of her. The girl is confronted not only by a rearing bear but also by the reflections on the glass where she sees two faces reflected rather than the expected one. This image was described by Claire Doherty in her essay ‘Give me a Child until He is Seven’

‘The juxtaposition of still, small figures with the stuffed animals is inspired. There is a doubling of the frozen moment, as if, like the animals, the children themselves are preserved and presented for our intense scrutiny – the surface of the photographs providing the barrier between viewer and child.’

[Doherty, 1999]

The museum – or rather our relationship to the objects within it – became an increasingly important part of my work. Now, the world of simulation (or simulated experience at least) was becoming part of our reality and our relationship to both the real world and the objects within it was subtly changing. In what way would this affect the way we understood and used the museum? It was becoming clear towards the close of the 20th century that the notion of the museum as the central repository for knowledge was being seriously challenged by the rise of the Internet. Peter Weibel (who had curated a show in which I took part in 1999 called The Anagrammatical Body wrote directly about this in his keynote speech ‘Web 2.0 and the Museum – The Noah’s Ark Principle’ for the Museums and the Internet (MAI) Conference in 2007. Here, Weibel described the Museum as a kind of Noah’s Ark – or, rather a floating raft, which could only collect a chosen few. He goes on to contrast the space of the museum with the that of Web 2.0 – a space which he describes as an ‘endlessly expandable Ark, an endlessly deep archive, a ship, a floating crate, wider than it is long, longer than it is high, higher than it is wide.’